PRIVATE FIRST CLASS THOMAS A. READ was born in Pennsylvania in 1922. He was single, and had one year of high school education when he enlisted in the United States Army on June 16, 1942 at Fort Dix NJ. His last known address is "North 27th Street and Buren Avenue" in the Cramer Hill section of Camden NJ.
After completing basic training Private Read was assigned to Company K, 18th Infantry Regiment, 34th Infantry Division. It is not known as of this writing if he went overseas with them in time to take part in the fighting in North Africa. Private Read was with the his unit when it landed in Italy during the invasion at Salerno in September of 1943.
Moving with a sense of purpose, the 34th Division, with the 133rd leading the way, hastened to relieve enemy pressure on the British, who were still trying to clear Naples. Moving north, it eliminated resistance at Ponte Romito, then crossed the Calore River and continued through Montemarano. At Benevento a raging battle developed. With Benevento captured, the Volturno River loomed in sight.
An autumn chill was in the air and swimming season had long passed when the Red Bull Dogfaces reached the lower reaches of the Volturno River, where the German Army had decided to make a strong stand.
On October 13, 1943, the 135th Infantry launched its crossing near the Calore River, using guide rope and fording and engineer assault boats. In the 168th Infantry area near Limatola, such volunteers as Sgt. Joseph B. Flatt and Maj. (Dr.) Roger Minkel, Newton, Iowa, of the 109th Medical Battalion, braved the swiftly flowing water and swam ropes across to the opposite bank. The going was tough with heavy enemy resistance, but the advance continued and a bridgehead was established.
Reaching the second Volturno River sites on October 18, 1943 the 133rd Infantry, in a column of battalions with the 1st Battalion leading, passed through the 135th Infantry Regiment and--under heavy enemy bombing and strafing--hurriedly forded the river in an attempt to capture a bridge intact. But the Germans had rendered it unusable with explosives. However, a bridgehead was established and held.
The 135th Infantry made its second crossing October 19 and came under heavy enemy fire and encountered heavy minefields and swamps. In that vicinity and along the roads, the regiment encountered the thickest minefields that they had seen to date. The enemy launched a strong armor-infantry attack, but the regiment held its ground and edged forward to take Piedmonte.
With all of the regiments across, the Red Bull men fought their way through grape arbors and villages until they reached the third crossing sites. On October 21, 1943 Col. Ray Fountain, Des Moines, Iowa, received orders rotating him to the States and Lt. Col. Carley Marshall was placed in command of Iowa's 133rd Infantry Regiment.
By the time the 34th Division units reached the third Volturno crossing sites, they had yet to dry out their clothes and boots from the first two crossings. However, they had gained considerable experience in crossing rivers.
The 168th Infantry, after a thunderous 30-minute preparatory barrage November 3, 1943 forded across the upper reaches of the Volturno at midnight, and by 10 a.m. had seized Roccaravindola. The 133rd Infantry crossed with its objective, Santa Maria Olivetto, one mile across the valley.
When all regiments of the division had made their last crossing and had seized their objectives, a drive was initiated to the Rapido River and Cassino.
To the Red Bull foot soldiers it appeared that Italy was made up of mountains, villages and Volturno Rivers. They had fought three vicious series of battles and crossed the Volturno three times. Wet and miserable, the valiant troops continued the crossings, driving back enemy defenders, only to repeat the action all over again. Minefields, machine guns, mortars, multi-barreled rockets, and enemy artillery fire continued to cut sharply into the ranks of the 34th Division. The Red Bull men literally bartered their arms, legs and blood for each objective.
Crossing the Volturno became a nightmare for the Red Bull Dogfaces. After each crossing they looked hopefully to the rear, expecting to see a fresh unit coming forward to relieve them and give them an opportunity to dry out or change their wet clothing. This proved to be wishful thinking, for relief never came. On and on they fought, clearing the enemy from such towns as Limatola, Amorosi, Ruviano, Caiazzo, Margherita, San Angelo, Alife, St. Angel de Alife, St. Leonard, Castello de Alife, Dragoni, Pratilia, Para, Santa Maria Olivetto, Roccaravindola, Ravindola, Montaquila, and Fillignano. To those who didn't speak Italian, the names of towns on the maps looked like an Italian restaurant menu. Strengths dwindled more with each engagement. Replacements received were few, and--without rest--weariness was overtaking the men, but move on they did.
Heroes were so numerous during the Volturno battles that it would not be possible to do them justice in this article. However, it would appear an exception should be made in the instance of Chaplain (Father) Albert Hoffman, Dubuque, Iowa.
With men falling right and left from rifle, machine gun, mortar, and artillery fire and the ever-present land mines, Hoffman continued, as in Africa, to lead medics, helping to give first aid and last rites to the dying. While giving aid to the wounded in a minefield at Santa Maria Olivetto, Hoffman himself stepped on a mine. He ordered his men not to come to his aid, but their love for him prohibited their obeying his order. One was killed while attempting to help him. Eventually Hoffman was brought out, but lost a leg. For his brave deeds in Africa and Italy, Hoffman became the highest decorated chaplain in the service of the Unites States. (An armory in Dubuque, Iowa has been named in his honor.)
Before the 34th Infantry Division stood the snow-capped mountain peaks of Monte Pantano and Monte Marrone where the Germans had anchored in what they felt would be their winter line. The crisp air of early winter was bone-chilling. In the valleys below the formidable mountains stood the Red Bull men in sleet, melting snow and a quagmire of mud, wearing wet uniforms and shoes. Throughout the area men could be seen attempting to help tanks, artillery, and trucks out of hub-deep mud. To make mattters worse, the Dogfaces had not yet been issued winter uniforms.
On November 29, 1943, Col. Frederick Butler's 168th Infantry, on the left, set out to take Monte Pantano. On the right flank, the 133rd Infantry, commanded by Col. Carley Marshall, moved out to attack Monte Marrone, remembered by veterans as Sawtooth Mountain.
Monte Pantano will be recalled by participants on both sides as a short-lived brutal battle. Men of the 133rd Infantry have no fonder memories of Monte Marrone, although the Germans did not defend Old Sawtooth with quite as much courageous vigor.
Success at Pantano first appeared imminent as the 168th cleared out foothill blockhouses, but in a saddle near the crest the Germans counterattacked like demons possessed. Capt. Benjamin Butler (no relation to Col. Butler) led Company A, 168th Infantry in a brutal bayonet attack time after time to drive the enemy from their lines. The 168th Infantry troops met the enemy eyeball to eyeball midfield with assault fire, then drove them back with bayonet and rifle butts. All day and all night the battle raged.
Running low on ammunition, some of the 168th Infantry men threw C ration cans at the charging enemy who, in the darkness, mistook them for grenades, thus buying enough time for those with a few rounds to reload and fire. Grimly the 168th Infantry held on, advancing inch by inch, refusing to give up ground gained.
On the right flank the 133rd Infantry and attached 100th Battalion relieved the 504th Parachute Infantry and pushed forward in a series of attacks to better anchor the lines, thus preventing the flanking of their positions and those of the 168th Infantry. After heavy fighting, they seized the left slopes of Monte Marrone and outposted Cerasuola.
The Germans pounded both Pantano and Marrone viciously with mortar and artillery fire, then strafed the area with fighter planes. Still the 168th and 133rd Infantries refused to budge.
It was at this point that a fortuitous development occurred. Sgt. Norman Raner, Company I, 133rd Infantry, now of Perry, Iowa, discovered an abandoned radio, somehow left behind when an Allied forward observer was wounded or killed. Testing it, he found an American artillery outfit on the other end. He could see enemy artillery firing on Pantano and directed highly effective fire on their positions. Raner later was given a battlefield commission and assigned as an observer with Cannon Company, 133rd Infantry.
On the night of December 3, the 135th Infantry Regiment relieved the 168th Infantry. Private Thomas A. Read was killed in action on December 4, 1943. Also killed from Company K during the withdrawal from Monte Panatano was Private First Class Anthony J. Martorello of Philadelphia PA, 33595358, Company K, 168th Infantry Regiment, 34th Infantry Division. Killed in Action on 4 December 1943 at Mt. Pantano,
Attacks and counterattacks continued on both sides, and casualties climbed. At last, on the night of December 8, the 34th Division was relieved by the 2nd Moroccan Division.
Official U.S. Army Account of the battle for Monte Pantano
CENTER OF MILITARY HISTORY
First printed by the Historical Division, War
Department, for the American Forces in Action series, 1945
The Battle for Mount Pantano
To the right of the 45th Infantry Division, the 34th Division, including the 133d, 135th, and 168th Regimental Combat Teams, occupied forward positions along a seven-mile front (Map No. 11, page 35). Before it on a line extending south from Mount Marrone, across the Rio Chiaro, and down to Pantano were elements of the 305th Grenadier Division. At the start of the new Allied offensive the 34th had as its immediate mission the capture of key heights north and south of Cerasuolo overlooking the Colli-Atina road.
From its defense area in the vicinity of Scapoli the 133d Infantry moved on the morning of 29 November toward the hills lying between Castelnuovo and Cerasuolo. By the 30th patrols of the 1st Battalion were in Castelnuovo, and units of the 100th Battalion,1 after occupying Hill 920, were moving onto Croce Hill. The 3d Battalion had reached Mount la Rocca, one and one-half miles northwest of the latter point. Enemy counteraction, especially mortar and artillery fire, checked the advance of the 133d. The regiment's only further gain before it was relieved on 9 December was Hill 1180, on the southern slopes of Mount Marrone, which Company L took by night attack across snow and ice on 2/3 December.
The main fighting of the 34th Division came in the effort to take Mount Pantano. Towering sixteen hundred feet above the Filignano Valley and flanking the Atina road, this height was the objective of the 168th Infantry (Map No. 12, page 37)
Before dawn on 29 November, the 1st Battalion, 168th Infantry, moved along the ridge just north of Filignano, across the road and up the brush-covered, rocky slopes of its objective. Aided by surprise, Company A took the southeast knob (Knob 1) of Mount Pantano shortly after daylight. This success did not end the battle. Three other knobs rise from the plateau which forms the mountain top, defended by the 2d Battalion, 577th Grenadiers. The main enemy strength lay on a nose jutting out from Knob 3, from which the Germans could sweep knobs 1 and 2 and the draws between them, but the whole plateau, fissured by gullies, offered excellent locations for dugouts, concealed mortar positions, and minefields.
Very soon after the appearance of American troops on the mountain top the Germans counterattacked from Knob 2 and broke through the right flank of Company A. Under heavy fire, Capt. Benjamin J. Butler, company commander, led forward his headquarters group and one squad of a platoon to stop the enemy, and then rallied his company to regain the lost ground. Meanwhile, our artillery fired a concentration on Knob 4. By noon the other two companies of the battalion had come up. This reinforcement did not discourage the enemy, for his counterattack later in the afternoon was checked only by a bayonet charge led by Capt. Butler. All through the night the Germans pressed against the 1st Battalion. To relieve the situation, Company F was committed on the left of the 1st Battalion toward Hill 895, and Company I went in on the right of Hill 760. The 168th on Pantano was short of ammunition when the enemy on Knob 2 counterattacked again at 0530, 30 November. However, our troops withstood the attack, and enemy activity slackened.
The 1st Battalion then prepared to push on toward Knob 2, but heavy fog prevented action until after noon. When the mist lifted, the 1st Battalion started forward, only to run into a thick minefield in the gully between the two knobs. Extremely heavy small-arms, mortar, and artillery fire came down, forcing the battalion to retreat to Knob 1. Within one hour Lt. Col. Wendell H. Langdon, commanding the 3d Battalion, and Lt. Col. Edward W. Bird, commanding the 2d Battalion, were wounded, and heavy casualties were suffered throughout all companies on the mountain top.
Toward evening on the 30th the divisional artillery and Company D of the 3d Chemical Battalion prepared extensive protecting and harassing fires, and the 1st Battalion dug in for the night. At 2130 enemy mortar fire was concentrated on Mount Pantano, and artillery fire with a high percentage of white phosphorus was added to it. At about 2240 a new enemy attack broke, in 'the greatest force so far. Capt. Fred D. Clarke, Jr., now commanding the 1st Battalion, sent a brief appeal for help through the radio of his forward artillery observer, the only means of communication left, and then the battalion set grimly about beating off the onslaught of the German infantry, whose strength was estimated at two companies. Throughout the wild night on the top of the mountain our men held their fox holes. Once two squads of Company C had to crawl over to aid Company A. As daylight approached, the Germans, pounded with heavy concentrations of our artillery, broke and fell back.
Other elements of the regiment were moving to support of the 1st Battalion on Mount Pantano. Company E, carrying food and ammunition, started up after midnight of 30 November. The 3d Battalion moved to the draw by the village of Pantano, where the houses were booby-trapped and the fields strewn with S-mines. Maj. Floyd E. Sparks, the battalion commander, went on ahead just before dawn on 1 December to take over command of the 1st Battalion. Heroic efforts were made to restore communication with our hard-pressed forces. The 1st Battalion message center chief, Sgt. Edward G. Jones, volunteered to repair the wire and crawled up the mountain through darkness and rain. Close to his goal he was wounded fatally by mortar fragments. Others continued the effort, but mortar fire kept cutting the line throughout the following day and night.
ON MOUNT PANTANO and the heights beyond, weapons
On 1 December Mount Pantano was almost quiet, as falling snow drifted across the rocks and the first-aid men sought out the wounded. All through the Pantano battle the medical personnel displayed the utmost bravery. Evacuation by litter was a four-hour carry down the steep mountainside, but the litter bearers from Company C, 109th Medical Battalion, carried their loads carefully despite casualties from the constant mortar fire. Even off the slopes of Pantano the wounded soldier was not in safety, for the enemy artillery hammered all the rear areas and arrival at a hospital was sometimes delayed for many hours. Extensive first aid bad accordingly to be administered in the thick of the fight. Capt. Emile G. Schuster crept forward under fire to an enemy minefield to treat men wounded by the antipersonnel mines and carried out plasma transfusions on the scene of battle Once a bottle was shot out of his hand, and the tree beside him was cut down by machine-gun fire; but Capt. Schuster got more supplies and continued his work.
The 2d of December was cloudy and cool with good visibility. At 0800 the 3d Battalion launched an attack up the slopes of Knob 2, preceded by a one-hour artillery preparation and accompanied by a rolling barrage (Map No. 13, below). The enemy yielded Knob 2 to Company K without a fight. Then our men moved on down toward the ravine
between Knobs 2 and 3, leaving one platoon with a section of Company M on Knob 2; but the Germans rallied, counterattacked, and pushed Company K back over and down Knob 2 to the east edge of the Pantano plateau by 1400. At that point Company L reinforced Company K. Together they drove up again and in another two hours regained Knob 2, where Company E, with only one officer and twenty men left, joined them from Knob 1. A simultaneous attack by the rest of the 2d Battalion to the south of Knob I had meanwhile been stopped on an enemy minefield.
The three companies on Knob 2 held their ground throughout the night, while our chemical mortars put down a round every five minutes on the west slopes of Mount Pantano. After dark Company E, 135th Infantry, relieved Company I, 168th Infantry, on Hill 76o, and the latter company moved up to Knob 1 together with Company G to relieve the 1st Battalion (Map No. 14, page 41). By the morning of 3 December the 1st Battalion had left the position which had cost so much to take and hold. Company A came down the mountain with only three officers and fifty-three men, and the other companies were but little stronger.
At 1030, 3 December, the 3d Battalion plodded off through the rain in a renewed attack toward Knob 3 by double envelopment, supported by Company M from Knob 2. As the attack got under way, it met enemy reinforcements—the 2d Company, 577th Regiment of the 305th Grenadier Division and the 10th Company, 134th Regiment of the 44th Grenadier Division. These units had marched all night from Lagone and Picinisco respectively; they attacked between the wings of our envelopment, firing machine-pistols rapidly.
Col. (now Brig. Gen.) Frederick B. Butler quickly ordered the 3d Battalion to withdraw to Knob 2, while the supporting mortars and artillery fired heavy concentrations on enemy positions and line, of advance. But it was too late to assume the defensive, and to make matters worse, Company M on Knob 2 ran short of ammunition for its Browning automatic rifles, which had been brought up in place of the heavy machine guns. The enemy drove on over Knob 2, especially on the right flank of the 3d Battalion, and by 1330 our troops in this area were completely off the Pantano plateau. Coordinated with the attack on the 3d Battalion, other assaults were launched against Knob 1. Cpl. Zannie M. Reynolds, voluntarily exposing himself in order to return hostile fire, had first one rifle and then a second shot from his hands by enemy machine guns. With a third he fired for several minutes and then threw hand grenades at the advancing Germans until the attack was broken up. Companies G and I on Knob 1 maintained their line. On the far left, however, Company F was pushed back by 1300 with severe losses.
A disaster was in the making, and our supporting fires came down hard. In seventy-five minutes one chemical mortar fired 370 rounds of smoke and high explosive, even though enemy rifle fire was falling on the mortar positions east of Hill 895. The antitank platoons of the 168th Infantry hauled up ammunition. Plans for organizing a rifle platoon from the rear echelon of the 2d Battalion were dropped in favor of getting reinforcements from the 3d Battalion, 135th Infantry. With a fresh supply of ammunition the 3d Battalion, 168th Infantry, rallied and came back up to the lip of the plateau east of Knob 2, where it was relatively safe from enemy mortar fire.
The enemy, having restored his positions on Knob 2, broke off the attack at 1830. In the afternoon of 4 December the 135th Infantry came up to relieve all elements of the 168th on Mount Pantano. During its six-day test of mental and physical endurance on the mountain the 168th Infantry had lost all its battalion commanders, together with 33 other officers and 386 men killed or wounded. It had expended 6,800 rounds of 81-mm mortar ammunition, 3,000 hand grenades, 7,500 rounds of 75-mm ammunition, and 400,000 rounds for rifle and machine gun. Only one knob of Mount Pantano was in our possession.
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